THE YALE CHRONICLES OF AMERICA SERIES
ALLEN JOHNSON EDITOR
GERHARD R. LOMER CHARLES W. JEFFERYS ASSISTANT EDITORS
WOODROW WILSON AND THE WORLD WAR
A CHRONICLE OF OUR OWN TIMES BY CHARLES SEYMOUR 1921
TORONTO: GLASGOW, BROOK & CO. NEW YORK: UNITED STATES PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION, INC.
Copyright, 1921, by Yale University Press
Printed in the United States of America
- Transcribers note: In this plain text the breve has been rendered as c -
I. WILSON THE EXECUTIVE Page 1
II. NEUTRALITY " 27
III. THE SUBMARINE " 47
IV. PLOTS AND PREPAREDNESS " 71
V. AMERICA DECIDES " 94
VI. THE NATION IN ARMS " 116
VII. THE HOME FRONT " 150
VIII. THE FIGHTING FRONT " 192
IX. THE PATH TO PEACE " 228
X. WAYS OF THE PEACE CONFERENCE " 254
XI. BALANCE OF POWER OR LEAGUE OF NATIONS? " 281
XII. THE SETTLEMENT " 310
XIII. THE SENATE AND THE TREATY " 330
XIV. CONCLUSION " 352
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE " 361
INDEX " 367
WOODROW WILSON AND THE WORLD WAR
WILSON THE EXECUTIVE
When, on March 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson entered the White House, the first Democratic president elected in twenty years, no one could have guessed the importance of the role which he was destined to play. While business men and industrial leaders bewailed the mischance that had brought into power a man whose attitude towards vested interests was reputed none too friendly, they looked upon him as a temporary inconvenience. Nor did the increasingly large body of independent voters, disgusted by the "stand-pattism" of the Republican machine, regard Wilson much more seriously; rather did they place their confidence in a reinvigoration of the Grand Old Party through the progressive leadership of Roosevelt, whose enthusiasm and practical vision had attracted the approval of more than four million voters in the preceding election, despite his lack of an adequate political organization. Even those who supported Wilson most whole-heartedly believed that his work would lie entirely within the field of domestic reform; little did they imagine that he would play a part in world affairs larger than had fallen to any citizen of the United States since the birth of the country.
The new President was fifty-six years old. His background was primarily academic, a fact which, together with his Scotch-Irish ancestry, the Presbyterian tradition of his family, and his early years spent in the South, explains much in his character at the time when he entered upon the general political stage. After graduating from Princeton in 1879, where his career gave little indication of extraordinary promise, he studied law, and for a time his shingle hung out in Atlanta. He seemed unfitted by nature, however, for either pleasure or success in the practice of the law. Reserved and cold, except with his intimates, he was incapable of attracting clients in a profession and locality where ability to "mix" was a prime qualification. A certain lack of tolerance for the failings of his fellow mortals may have combined with his Presbyterian conscience to disgust him with the hard give-and-take of the struggling lawyer's life. He sought escape in graduate work in history and politics at Johns Hopkins, where, in 1886, he received his Ph.D. for a thesis entitled Congressional Government, a study remarkable for clear thinking and felicitous expression. These qualities characterized his work as a professor at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan and paved his path to an appointment on the Princeton faculty in 1890, as Professor of Jurisprudence and Politics.
Despite his early distaste to the career of practicing lawyer, Wilson was by no means the man to bury himself in academic research. He lacked the scrupulous patience and the willingness to submerge his own personality which are characteristic of the scientific scholar. His gift was for generalization, and his writings were marked by clarity of thought and wealth of phrase, rather than by profundity. But such qualities brought him remarkable success as a lecturer and essayist, and constant practice gave him a fluency, a vocal control, and a power of verbal expression which assured distinction at the frequent public meetings and dinners where he was called upon to speak. Professional interest in the science of government furnished him with topics of far wider import than the ordinary pedagogue cares to handle, and he became, even as professor, well known outside of Princeton. His influence, already broad in the educational and not without some recognition in the political world, was extended in 1902, when he was chosen President of the University.
During the succeeding eight years Wilson enjoyed his first taste of executive power, and certain traits which he then displayed deserve brief notice. Although a "conservative" in his advocacy of the maintenance of the old-time curriculum, based upon the ancient languages and mathematics, and in his opposition to the free elective system, he proved an inflexible reformer as regards methods of instruction, the efficiency of which he was determined to establish. He showed a ruthless resolution to eliminate what he looked upon as undemocratic social habits among the undergraduates, and did not hesitate to cut loose from tradition, regardless of the prejudice thereby aroused against him. As an executive he evoked intense admiration and virulent dislike; the Board of Trustees and the alumni body were alike divided between enthusiastic support and bitter anathematization of the measures he proposed. What seems obvious is that many graduates sympathized with his purposes but were alienated by his methods. His strength lay chiefly in the force of his appeal to democratic sentiment; his weakness in complete inability to conciliate opponents.
At the moment when the issue of the struggle at Princeton was still undecided, opportunity was given Wilson to enter political life; an ambition for such a career had evidently stirred him in early days and was doubtless resuscitated by his success as a public speaker. While President of Princeton he had frequently touched upon public issues, and so early as 1906 Colonel George Harvey had mentioned him as a possible President of the United States. From that time he was often considered as available for political office, and in 1910, with New Jersey stirred by a strong popular movement against boss-rule, he was tendered the nomination for Governor of that State. He accepted and proved an ideal candidate. Though supported by the Democratic machine, which planned to elect a reformer and then control him, Wilson won the adherence of independents and progressive Republicans by his promise to break the power of the boss system, and by the clarity of his plans for reform. His appeals to the spirit of democracy and morality, while they voiced nothing new in an electoral campaign, rang with unusual strength and sincerity. The State, which had gone Republican by eighty-two thousand two years before, now elected Wilson its Governor by a plurality of forty-nine thousand.
He retained office in New Jersey for only two years. During that period he achieved a high degree of success. Had he served longer it is impossible to say what might have been his ultimate position, for as at Princeton, elements of opposition had begun to coalesce against him and he had found no means to disarm them. As Governor, he at once declared himself head of the party and by a display of firm activity dominated the machine. The Democratic boss, Senator James Smith, was sternly enjoined from seeking reelection to the Senate, and when, in defiance of promises and the wish of the voters as expressed at the primaries, he attempted to run, Wilson entered the lists and so influenced public opinion and the Legislature that the head of the machine received only four votes. Attempts of the Democratic machine to combine with the Republicans, in order to nullify the reforms which Wilson had promised in his campaign, proved equally futile. With strong popular support, constantly exercising his influence both in party conferences and on the Legislature, the Governor was able to translate into law the most important of the measures demanded by the progressives. He himself summed up the essence of the situation when he said: "The moment the forces in New Jersey that had resisted reform realized that the people were backing new men who meant what they had said, they realized that they dare not resist them. It was not the personal force of the new officials; it was the moral strength of their backing that accomplished the extraordinary result." Supreme confidence in the force of public opinion exerted by the common man characterizes much of Wilson's political philosophy, and the position in the world which he was to enjoy for some months towards the end of the war rested upon the same basis.
In 1912 came the presidential election. The split in the Republican forces promised if it did not absolutely guarantee the election of a Democrat, and when the party convention met at Baltimore in June, excitement was more than ordinarily intense. The conservative elements in the party were divided. The radicals looked to Bryan for leadership, although his nomination seemed out of the question. Wilson had stamped himself as an anti-machine progressive, and if the machine conservatives threatened he might hope for support from the Nebraskan orator. From the first the real contest appeared to be between Wilson and Champ Clark, who although hardly a conservative, was backed for the moment by the machine leaders. The deciding power was in Bryan's hand, and as the strife between conservatives and radicals waxed hot, he turned to the support of Wilson. On the forty-sixth ballot Wilson was nominated. With division in the Republican ranks, with his record in New Jersey for legislative accomplishment, and winning many independent votes through a succession of effective campaign speeches, Wilson more than fulfilled the highest of Democratic hopes. He received on election day only a minority of all the votes cast, but his majority in the electoral college was overwhelming.
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The personality of an American President has seldom undergone so much analysis with such unsatisfactory results; almost every discussion of Wilson's characteristics leads to the generation of heat rather than light. Indeed the historian of the future may ask whether it is as important, in this age of democracy, to know exactly what sort of man he was as to know what the people thought he was. And yet in the case of a statesman who was to play a role of supreme importance in the affairs of the country and the world, it is perhaps more than a matter of merely personal interest to underline his salient traits. Let it be premised that a logical and satisfactory analysis is well-nigh impossible, for his nature is self-contradictory, subject to gusts of temperament, and he himself has pictured the struggle that has gone on between the impulsive Irish and the cautious Scotch elements in him. Thus it is that he has handled similar problems in different ways at different times, and has produced upon different persons diametrically opposed impressions.
As an executive, perhaps his most notable characteristic is the will to dominate. This does not mean that he is the egocentric autocrat pictured by his opponents, for in conference he is apt to be tolerant of the opinions of others, by no means dictatorial in manner, and apparently anxious to obtain facts on both sides of the argument. An unfriendly critic, Mr. E. J. Dillon, has said of him at Paris that "he was a very good listener, an intelligent questioner, and amenable to argument whenever he felt free to give practical effect to his conclusions." Similar evidence has been offered by members of his Cabinet. But unquestionably, in reaching a conclusion he resents pressure and he permits no one to make up his mind for him; he is, said the German Ambassador, "a recluse and lonely worker." One of his enthusiastic admirers has written: "Once in possession of every fact in the case, the President withdraws, commences the business of consideration, comparison, and assessment, and then emerges with a decision." From such a decision it is difficult to shake him and continued opposition serves merely to stiffen his resolution. Wherever the responsibility is his, he insists upon the finality of his judgment. Those who have worked with him have remarked upon his eagerness, once he has decided a course of action, to carry it into practical effect. The President of the Czecho-Slovak Republic, Thomas G. Masaryk, said that of all the men he had met, "your visionary, idealistic President is by far and away the most intensely practical." One of the Big Four at Paris remarked: "Wilson works. The rest of us play, comparatively speaking. We Europeans can't keep up with a man who travels a straight path with such a swift stride, never looking to right or left." But with all his eagerness for practical effect he is notably less efficient in the execution than in the formation of policies.
Wilson lacks, furthermore, the power of quick decision which is apt to characterize the masterful executive. He is slow to make up his mind, a trait that results partly, perhaps, from his Scotch blood and partly from his academic training. Except for his steadfast adherence to what he regards as basic principles, he might rightly be termed an opportunist. For he is prone to temporize, anxious to prevent an issue from approaching a crisis, evidently in the hope that something may "turn up" to improve the situation and obviate the necessity of conflict. "Watchful waiting" in the Mexican crises and his attitude towards the belligerents during the first two years of the European war are cases in point. There are instances of impulsive action on his part, when he has not waited for advice or troubled to acquire exact knowledge of the facts underlying a situation, but such occasions have been infrequent.
Wilson's dislike of advice has been widely advertized. It is probably closer to the truth to say that he is naturally suspicious of advisers unless he is certain that their basic point of view is the same as his own. This is quite different from saying that he wants only opinions that coincide with his own and that he immediately dispenses with advisers who disagree with him. Colonel House, for example, who for five years exerted constant influence on his policy, frequently advanced opinions quite at variance from those of the President, but such differences did not weaken House's influence inasmuch as Wilson felt that they were both starting from the same angle towards the same point. Prejudiced though he seemed to be against "financiers," Wilson took the opinions of Thomas W. Lamont at Paris, because the underlying object of both, the acquisition of a secure peace, was identical. It is true, however, that with the exception of Colonel House, Wilson's advisers have been in the main purveyors of facts rather than colleagues in the formation of policies. Wilson has generally been anxious to receive facts which might help him to build his policy, as will be attested by those who worked with him at Paris. But he was less interested in the opinions of his advisers, especially when it came to principles and not details, for he decides principles for himself. In this sense his Cabinet was composed of subordinates rather than counselors. Such an attitude is, of course, characteristic of most modern executives and has been intensified by war conditions. The summary disregard of Lansing, shown by Wilson at Paris, was less striking than the snubbing of Balfour by Lloyd George, or the cold brutality with which Clemenceau treated the other French delegates.
[Footnote 1: Mr. Lamont says of the President at Paris: "I never saw a man more ready and anxious to consult than he.... President Wilson did not have a well-organized secretarial staff. He did far too much of the work himself, studying until late at night papers and documents that he should have largely delegated to some discreet aides. He was by all odds, the hardest worked man at the Conference; but the failure to delegate more of his work was not due to any inherent distrust that he had of men—and certainly not to any desire to 'run the whole show' himself—but simply to the lack of facility in knowing how to delegate work on a large scale. In execution we all have a blind spot in some part of our eye. President Wilson's was in his inability to use men; an inability, mind you, not a refusal. On the contrary, when any of us volunteered or insisted upon taking responsibility off his shoulders he was delighted."]
General conviction of Wilson's autocratic nature has been intensified by his choice of assistants, who have not as a rule enjoyed public confidence. He debarred himself from success in the matter of appointments, in the first place, by limiting his range of choice through unwillingness to have about him those who did not share his point of view. It is more epigrammatic than exact to say that he was the sole unit in the Government giving value to a row of ciphers, for his Cabinet, as a whole, was not composed of weak men. But the fact that the members of his Cabinet accepted implicitly his firm creed that the Cabinet ought to be an executive and not a political council, that it depended upon the President's policy, and that its main function should be merely to carry that policy into effect, gave to the public some justification for its belief that Wilson's was a "one-man" Government. This belief was further intensified by the President's extreme sensitiveness to hostile criticism, which more than anything else hindered frank interchange of opinion between himself and strong personalities. On more than one occasion he seemed to regard opposition as tantamount to personal hostility, an attitude which at times was not entirely unjustified. In the matter of minor appointments Wilson failed generally of success because he consistently refused to take a personal interest, leaving them to subordinates and admitting that political necessities must go far to determine the choice. Even in such an important problem as the appointment of the Peace Commission the President seems to have made his selection almost at haphazard. Many of his war appointments proved ultimately to be wise. But it is noteworthy that such men as Garfield, Baruch, and McCormick, who amply justified their choice, were appointed because Wilson knew personally their capacity and not because of previous success along special lines which would entitle them to public confidence.
The obstinacy of the President has become proverbial. The square chin, unconsciously protruded in argument, indicates definitely his capacity, as a British critic has put it, "to dig his toes in and hold on." On matters of method, however, where a basic principle is not involved, he is flexible. According as you approve or disapprove of him, he is "capable of development" or "inconsistent." Thus he completely changed front on the question of preparedness from 1914 to 1916. When the question of the initiative and referendum arose in Oregon, his attitude was the reverse of what it had been as professor of politics. When matters of detail are under discussion, he has displayed much willingness for and some skill in compromise, as was abundantly illustrated at Paris. But when he thinks that a principle is at stake, he prefers to accept any consequences, no matter how disastrous to his policy; witness his refusal to accept the Lodge reservation on Article X of the League Covenant.
All those included within the small circle of Wilson's intimates attest the charm and magnetism of his personality. The breadth of his reading is reflected in his conversation, which is enlivened by anecdotes that illustrate his points effectively and illumined by a sense of humor which some of his friends regard as his most salient trait. His manner is marked by extreme courtesy and, in view of the fixity of his opinions, a surprising lack of abruptness or dogmatism. But he has never been able to capitalize such personal advantages in his political relations. Apart from his intimates he is shy and reserved. The antithesis of Roosevelt, who loved to meet new individualities, Wilson has the college professor's shrinking from social contacts, and is not at ease in the presence of those with whom he is not familiar. Naturally, therefore, he lacks completely Roosevelt's capacity to make friends, and there is in him no trace of his predecessor's power to find exactly the right compliment for the right person. Under Roosevelt the White House opened its doors to every one who could bring the President anything of interest, whether in the field of science, literature, politics, or sport; and the Chief Magistrate, no matter who his guest, instantly found a common ground for discussion. That capacity Wilson did not possess. Furthermore his health was precarious and he was physically incapable of carrying the burden of the constant interviews that characterized the life of his immediate predecessors in the presidential office. He lived the life of a recluse and rarely received any one but friends of the family at the White House dinner table.
While he thus saved himself from the social intercourse which for Roosevelt was a relaxation but which for him would have proved a nervous and physical drain, Wilson deprived himself of the political advantages that might have been derived from more extensive hospitality. He was unable to influence Congressmen except by reason of his authority as head of the party or nation. He lost many a chance of removing political opposition through the personal appeal which is so flattering and effective. He seems to have thought that if his policy was right in itself, Congressmen ought to vote for it, without the satisfaction of personal arguments, a singular misappreciation of human nature. The same was true of his relations with the Washington correspondents; he was never able to establish a man to man basis of intercourse. This incapacity in the vital matter of human contacts was, perhaps, his greatest political weakness. If he had been able to arouse warm personal devotion in his followers, if he could have inflamed them with enthusiasm such as that inspired by Roosevelt, rather than mere admiration, Wilson would have found his political task immeasurably lightened. It is not surprising that his mistakes in tactics should have been so numerous. His isolation and dependence upon tactical advisers, such as Tumulty and Burleson, lacking broad vision, led him into serious errors, most of which—such as his appeal for a Democratic Congress in 1918, his selection of the personnel of the Peace Commission, his refusal to compromise with the "mild reservationist Senators" in the summer of 1919—were committed, significantly, when he was not in immediate contact with Colonel House.
The political strength of Wilson did not result primarily from intellectual power. His mind is neither profound nor subtle. His serious writings are sound but not characterized by originality, nor in his policies is there anything to indicate creative genius. He thinks straight and possesses the ability to concentrate on a single line of effort. He is skillful in catching an idea and adapting it to his purposes. Combined with his power of expression and his talent for making phrases, such qualities were of great assistance to him. But the real strength of the President lay rather in his gift of sensing what the common people wanted and his ability to put it into words for them. Few of his speeches are great; many of them are marred by tactless phrases, such as "too proud to fight" and "peace without victory." But nearly all of them express honestly the desires of the masses. His strength in New Jersey and the extraordinary effect produced in Europe by his war speeches might be cited as evidence of this peculiar power. He sought above everything to catch the trend of inarticulate rather than vociferous opinion. If one objects that his patience under German outrages was not truly representative, we must remember that opinion was slow in crystallizing, that his policy was endorsed by the election of 1916, and that when he finally advocated war in April, 1917, the country entered the struggle practically a unit.
But it is obvious that, however much political strength was assured the President by his instinctive appreciation of popular feeling, this was largely offset by the gaucherie of his political tactics. He had a genius for alienating persons who should have supported him and who agreed in general with the broad lines of his policies. Few men in public life have so thoroughly aroused the dislike of "the man in the street." Admitting that much of Wilson's unpopularity resulted from misunderstanding, from the feeling that he was a different sort, perhaps a "highbrow," the degree of dislike felt for him becomes almost inexplicable in the case of a President who, from all the evidence, was willing to sacrifice everything for what he considered to be the benefit of the common man. He might almost repeat Robespierre's final bitter and puzzled phrase: "To die for the people and to be abhorred by them." So keen was the irritation aroused by Wilson's methods and personality that many a citizen stated frankly that he preferred to see Wilsonian policies which he approved meet defeat, rather than see them carried to success by Wilson. This executive failing of the President was destined to jeopardize the greatest of his policies and to result in the personal tragedy of Wilson himself.
Certain large political principles stand out in Wilson's writings and career as Governor and President. Of these the most striking, perhaps, is his conviction that the President of the United States must be something more than a mere executive superintendent. The entire responsibility for the administration of government, he believed, should rest upon the President, and in order to meet that responsibility, he must keep the reins of control in his own hands. In his first essays and in his later writings Wilson expressed his disgust with the system of congressional committees which threw enormous power into the hands of irresponsible professional politicians, and called for a President who would break that system and exercise greater directive authority. For a time he seemed, under the influence of Bagehot, to have believed in the feasibility of introducing something like the parliamentary system into the government of the United States. To the last he regarded the President as a sort of Prime Minister, at the head of his party in the Legislature and able to count absolutely upon its loyalty. More than this, he believed that the President should take a large share of responsibility for the legislative programme and ought to push this programme through by all means at his disposal. Such a creed appeared in his early writings and was largely carried into operation during his administration. We find him bringing all possible pressure upon the New Jersey Legislature in order to redeem his campaign pledges. When elected President, he went directly to Congress with his message, instead of sending it to be read. Time and again he intervened to forward his special legislative interests by direct influence.
Both in his writings and in his actions Wilson has always advocated government by party. Theoretically and in practice he has been opposed to coalition government, for, in his belief, it divides responsibility. Although by no means an advocate of the old-type spoils system, rewards for party service seem to him essential. Curiously enough, while insisting that the President is the leader of his party like a Prime Minister, he has also described him, with an apparent lack of logic, as the leader of the country. Because Wilson has thus confused party and people, it is easy to understand why he has at times claimed to represent the nation when, in reality, he was merely representing partisan views. Such an attitude is naturally irritating to the Opposition and explains something of the virulence that characterized the attacks made upon him in 1918 and later.
Wilson's political sentiments are tinged by a constant and intense interest in the common man. More than once he has insisted that it was more important to know what was said by the fireside than what was said in the council chamber. His strongest political weapon, he believes, has been the appeal over the heads of politicians to public opinion. His dislike of cliques and his strong prejudice against anything that savors of special privilege shone clear in his attack upon the Princeton club system, and the same light has not infrequently dazzled his vision as President. Thus, while by no means a radical, he instinctively turned to the support of labor in its struggles with capital because of the abuse of its privilege by capital in the past and regardless of more recent abuse of its power by labor. Similarly at the Peace Conference his sympathies were naturally with every weak state and every minority group.
Such tendencies may have been strengthened by the intensity of his religious convictions. There have been few men holding high office in recent times so deeply and constantly affected by Christian faith as Woodrow Wilson. The son of a clergyman and subjected during his early years to the most lively and devout sort of Presbyterianism, he preserved in his own family circle, in later years, a similar atmosphere. Nor was his conviction of the immanence and spiritual guidance of the Deity ever divorced from his professional and public life. We can discover in his presidential speeches many indications of his belief that the duties he had undertaken were laid upon him by God and that he might not deviate from what seemed to him the straight and appointed path. There is something reminiscent of Calvin in the stern and unswerving determination not to compromise for the sake of ephemeral advantage. This aspect of Wilson has been caught by a British critic, J. M. Keynes, who describes the President as a Nonconformist minister, whose thought and temperament were essentially theological, not intellectual, "with all the strength and weakness of that manner of thought, feeling, and expression." The observation is exact, although it does not in itself completely explain Wilson. Certainly nothing could be more characteristic of the President than the text of a Baccalaureate sermon which he preached at Princeton in 1907: "And be ye not conformed to this world." He believed with intensity that each individual must set up for himself a moral standard, which he must rigidly maintain regardless of the opinions of the community.
Entirely natural, therefore, is the emphasis which he has placed, whether as President of Princeton or of the United States, upon moral rather than material virtues. This, indeed, has been the essence of his political idealism. Such an emphasis has been for him at once a source of political strength and of weakness. The moralist unquestionably secures wide popular support; but he also wearies his audience, and many a voter has turned from Wilson in the spirit that led the Athenian to vote for the ostracism of Aristides, because he was tired of hearing him called "the Just." Whatever the immediate political effects, the country owes to Wilson a debt, which historians will doubtless acknowledge, for his insistence that morality must go hand in hand with public policy, that as with individuals, so with governments, true greatness is won by service rather than by acquisition, by sacrifice rather than by aggression. Wilson and Treitschke are at opposite poles.
During his academic career Wilson seems to have displayed little interest in foreign affairs, and his knowledge of European politics, although sufficient for him to produce an admirable handbook on governments, including foreign as well as our own, was probably not profound. During his first year in the White House, he was typical of the Democratic party, which then approved the political isolation of the United States, abhorred the kind of commercial imperialism summed up in the phrase "dollar diplomacy," and apparently believed that the essence of foreign policy was to keep one's own hands clean. The development of Wilson from this parochial point of view to one which centers his whole being upon a policy of unselfish international service, forms, to a large extent, the main thread of the narrative which follows.
Despite the wars and rumors of wars in Europe after 1910, few Americans perceived the gathering of the clouds, and probably not one in ten thousand felt more than an ordinary thrill of interest on the morning of June 29, 1914, when they read that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated. Nor, a month later, when it became obvious that the resulting crisis was to precipitate another war in the Balkans, did most Americans realize that the world was hovering on the brink of momentous events. Not even when the most dire forebodings were realized and the great powers of Europe were drawn into the quarrel, could America appreciate its significance. Crowds gazed upon the bulletin boards and tried to picture the steady advance of German field-gray through the streets of Liege, asked their neighbors what were these French 75's, and endeavored to locate Mons and Verdun on inadequate maps. Interest could not be more intense, but it was the interest of the moving-picture devotee. Even the romantic voyage of the Kronprinzessin Cecilie with her cargo of gold, seeking to elude the roving British cruisers, seemed merely theatrical. It was a tremendous show and we were the spectators. Only the closing of the Stock Exchange lent an air of reality to the crisis.
It was true that the Spanish War had made of the United States a world power, but so firmly rooted in American minds was the principle of complete political isolation from European affairs that the typical citizen could not imagine any cataclysm on the other side of the Atlantic so engrossing as to engage the active participation of his country. The whole course of American history had deepened the general feeling of aloofness from Europe and heightened the effect of the advice given by the first President when he warned the country to avoid entangling alliances. In the early nineteenth century the United States was a country apart, for in the days when there was neither steamship nor telegraph the Atlantic in truth separated the New World from the Old. After the close of the "second war of independence," in 1815, the possibility of foreign complications seemed remote. The attention of the young nation was directed to domestic concerns, to the building up of manufactures, to the extension of the frontiers westward. The American nation turned its back to the Atlantic. There was a steady and welcome stream of immigrants from Europe, but there was little speculation or interest as to its headwaters.
Governmental relations with European states were disturbed at times by crises of greater or less importance. The proximity of the United States to and interest in Cuba compelled the Government to recognize the political existence of Spain; a French army was ordered out of Mexico when it was felt to be a menace; the presence of immigrant Irish in large numbers always gave a note of uncertainty to the national attitude towards Great Britain. The export of cotton from the Southern States created industrial relations of such importance with Great Britain that, during the Civil War, after the establishment of the blockade on the Confederate coast, wisdom and forbearance were needed on both sides to prevent the breaking out of armed conflict. But during the last third of the century, which was marked in this country by an extraordinary industrial evolution and an increased interest in domestic administrative issues, the attitude of the United States towards Europe, except during the brief Venezuelan crisis and the war with Spain, was generally characterized by the indifference which is the natural outcome of geographical separation.
In diplomatic language American foreign policy, so far as Europe was concerned, was based upon the principle of "non-intervention." The right to manage their affairs in their own way without interference was conceded to European Governments and a reciprocal attitude was expected of them. The American Government followed strictly the purpose of not participating in any political arrangements made between European states regarding European issues. Early in the life of the nation Jefferson had correlated the double aspect of this policy: "Our first and fundamental maxim," he said, "should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with cis-Atlantic affairs." The influence of John Quincy Adams crystallized this double policy in the Monroe Doctrine, which, as compensation for denying to European states the right to intervene in American politics, sacrificed the generous sympathies of many Americans, among them President Monroe himself, with the republican movements across the Atlantic. With the continued and increasing importance of the Monroe Doctrine as a principle of national policy, the natural and reciprocal aspect of that doctrine, implying political isolation from Europe, became more deeply imbedded in the national consciousness.
There was, it is true, another aspect to American foreign policy besides the European, namely, that concerning the Pacific and the Far East, which, as diplomatic historians have pointed out, does not seem to have been affected by the tradition of isolation. Since the day when the western frontier was pushed to the Golden Gate, the United States has taken an active interest in problems of the Pacific. Alaska was purchased from Russia. An American seaman was the first to open the trade of Japan to the outside world and thus precipitated the great revolution which has touched every aspect of Far Eastern questions. American traders watched carefully the commercial development of Oriental ports, in which Americans have played an active role. In China and in the maintenance of the open door especially, has America taken the keenest interest. It is a matter of pride that American policy, always of a purely commercial and peaceful nature, showed itself less aggressive than that of some European states. But the Government insisted upon the recognition of American interest in every Far Eastern issue that might be raised, and was ready to intervene with those of Europe in moments of crisis or danger.
A fairly clear-cut distinction might thus be made between American pretensions in the different parts of the world. In the Americas the nation claimed that sort of preeminence which was implied by the Monroe Doctrine, a preeminence which as regards the Latin-American states north of the Orinoco many felt must be actively enforced, in view of special interests in the Caribbean. In the Far East the United States claimed an equality of status with the European powers. In the rest of the world, Europe, Africa, the Levant, the traditional American policy of abstention held good absolutely, at least until the close of the century.
The war with Spain affected American foreign policy vitally. The holding of the Philippines, even if it were to prove merely temporary, created new relations with all the great powers, of Europe as of Asia; American Caribbean interests were strengthened; and the victory over a European power, even one of a second class in material strength, necessarily altered the traditional attitude of the nation towards the other states of Europe and theirs towards it. This change was stimulated by the close attention which American merchants and bankers began to give to European combinations and policies, particularly to the exploitation of thinly populated districts by European states. Even before the Spanish War a keen-sighted student of foreign affairs, Richard Olney, had declared that the American people could not assume an attitude of indifference towards European politics and that the hegemony of a single continental state would be disastrous to their prosperity if not to their safety. Conversely Europeans began to watch America with greater care. The victory over Spain was resented and the fear of American commercial development began to spread. The Kaiser had even talked of a continental customs union to meet American competition. On the other hand, Great Britain, which had displayed a benevolent attitude during the Spanish War and whose admiral at Manila had perhaps blocked German interference, showed an increasing desire for a close understanding. The friendship of the United States, itself once a British dependency, for the British colonies was natural and American interests in the Far East had much in common with those of Great Britain.
External evidence of the new place of the United States in the world might be found in the position taken by Roosevelt as peacemaker between Russia and Japan, and, more significantly, in the role played by the American representative, Henry White, at the Conference of Algeciras in 1906. Not merely did the American Government consent to discuss matters essentially European in character, but its attitude proved almost decisive in the settlement then drafted. It is true that the Senate, in approving that settlement, refused to assume responsibility for its maintenance and reiterated its adherence to traditional policy. But those who watched developments with intelligent eyes must have agreed with Roosevelt when he said: "We have no choice, we people of the United States, as to whether we shall play a great part in the affairs of the world. That has been decided for us by fate, by the march of events." Yet it may be questioned whether the average American, during the first decade of the twentieth century, realized the change that had come over relations with Europe. The majority of citizens certainly felt that anything happening east of the Atlantic was none of their business, just as everything that occurred in the Americas was entirely outside the scope of European interference.
There is little to show that Woodrow Wilson, at the time when he entered upon his duties as President, was one of the few Americans who fully appreciated the new international position of the United States and its consequences, even had there been no war. The Democratic platform of 1912 hardly mentioned foreign policy, and Wilson's Inaugural contained no reference to anything except domestic matters. Certain problems inherited from the previous Administration forced upon the President, however, the formulation, if not of a policy, at least of an attitude. The questions of the Panama Canal tolls and Japanese immigration, the Mexican situation, the Philippines, general relations with Latin-America, all demanded attention. In each case Wilson displayed a willingness to sacrifice, a desire to avoid stressing the material strength of the United States, an anxiety to compromise, which matched in spirit the finest traditions of American foreign policy, which has generally been marked by high ideals. Many of his countrymen, possibly without adequate study or command of the facts, supposed that Wilson was inspired less by positive ideals than by the belief that no problem of a foreign nature was worth a quarrel. People liked the principle contained in the sentence: "We can afford to exercise the self-restraint of a really great nation which realizes its own strength and scorns to misuse it." But they also wondered whether the passivity of the Government did not in part proceed from the fact that the President could not make up his mind what he wanted to do. They looked upon his handling of the Mexican situation as clear evidence of a lack of policy. Nevertheless the country as a whole, without expressing enthusiasm for Wilson's attitude, was obviously pleased by his attempts to avoid foreign entanglements, and in the early summer of 1914 the eyes of the nation were focused upon domestic issues.
Then came the war in Europe.
* * * * *
Today, after the long years of stress and struggle in which the crimes of Germany have received full advertisement, few Americans will admit that they did not perceive during that first week of August, 1914, the complete significance of the moral issues involved in the European war. They read back into their thoughts of those early days the realization which, in truth, came only later, that Germany was the brutal aggressor attacking those aspects of modern civilization which are dear to America. In fact there were not many then who grasped the essential truth that the cause defended by Great Britain and France was indeed that of America and that their defeat would bring the United States face to face with vital danger, both material and moral.
Partisanship, of course, was not lacking and frequently it was of an earnest kind; in view of the large number of European-born who enjoyed citizenship, sympathy with one side or the other was inevitably warm. West of the Mississippi it was some time before the masses were stirred from their indifference to and their ignorance of the struggle. But on the Atlantic seaboard and in the Middle West opinion became sharply divided. The middle-class German-Americans naturally espoused with some vehemence the justice of the Fatherland's cause. German intellectuals of influence, such as Hugo Muensterberg, inveighed against the hypocrisy and the decadence of the Entente powers. Many Americans who had lived or had been educated in Germany, some professors who had been brought into contact with the Kaiser explained the "essentially defensive character" of Germany's struggle against the threatening Slav. Certain of the politically active Irish elements, anxious to discredit the British, also lent their support to the German cause.
On the Atlantic coast, however, the general trend of opinion ran strongly in favor of the Entente. The brave defense of the Belgians at Liege against terrible odds evoked warm sympathy; the stories of the atrocities committed by the invading Germans, constantly more frequent and more brutal in character, enhanced that feeling. The valorous retreat of the French and their last-ditch stand on the Marne compelled admiration. Moreover, the school histories of the United States with their emphasis upon La Fayette and the aid given by the French in the first fight for liberty proved to be of no small importance in the molding of sympathy. Business men naturally favored Great Britain, both because of financial relationships and because of their dislike and fear of German commercial methods.
But in all this partisanship there was little appreciation of the peril that might result from German victory and no articulate demand that the United States intervene. Warm sympathy might be given to one side or the other, but the almost universal opinion was that the war was none of our business. Even Theodore Roosevelt, who later was to be one of the most determined advocates of American intervention on the side of the Entente, writing for The Outlook in September, 1914, congratulated the country on its separation from European quarrels, which made possible the preservation of our peace.
Whatever the trend of public opinion, President Wilson would have insisted upon neutrality. Everything in his character and policy demanded the maintenance of peace. He had entered office with a broad programme of social reform in view, and the attainment of his ideals depended upon domestic tranquillity. He was, furthermore, a real pacifist, believing that war is debasing morally and disastrous economically. Finally, he was convinced that the United States was consecrated to a special task, namely, the inspiration of politics by moral factors; if the nation was to accomplish this task its example must be a higher example than one of force. Unquestionably he looked forward to acting as mediator in the struggle and thus securing for the country and himself new prestige such as had come in Roosevelt's mediation between Russia and Japan. But the main thought in his mind was, first, the preservation of peace for the sake of peace; and next, to attain the supreme glory of showing the world that greatness and peaceableness are complementary in national character and not antithetic. "We are champions of peace and of concord," he said, "and we should be very jealous of this distinction which we have sought to earn."
Wilson's determination was strengthened by his obvious failure to distinguish between the war aims of the two sides. He did not at first see the moral issue involved. He was anxious to "reserve judgment until the end of the war, when all its events and circumstances can be seen in their entirety and in their true relations." When appeals and protests were sent to him from Germany, Belgium, and France dealing with infractions of the law and practice of nations, he was willing to return a response to Germany, which had confessedly committed an international wrong, identical with that sent to Belgium which had suffered from that wrong. Wilson has himself confessed that "America did not at first see the full meaning of the war. It looked like a natural raking out of the pent-up jealousies and rivalries of the complicated politics of Europe.... We, at the distance of America, looked on at first without a full comprehension of what the plot was getting into." That the aims of the belligerent powers might affect the conscience or the fortunes of America he did not perceive. He urged us not to be "thrown off our balance by a war with which we have nothing to do, whose causes cannot touch us, whose very existence affords us opportunities of friendship and disinterested service which should make us ashamed of any thought of hostility or fearful preparation for trouble." Hence his proclamation of neutrality, which was universally accepted as right. Hence, also, his adjuration to be "impartial in thought as well as in action," which was not so universally accepted and marks, perhaps, a definite rift between Wilson and the bulk of educated opinion in the Northeast.
[Footnote 2: Speech on the George Washington, July 4, 1919.]
During the early days of August Wilson had proclaimed his desire to act as mediator between the warring forces, although he must have realized that the suggestion would prove fruitless at that moment. Again, after the battle of the Marne, he took advantage of German discouragement, apparently receiving a hint from Johann von Bernstorff, German Ambassador in Washington, to sound the belligerents on the possibility of an arrangement. Failing a second time to elicit serious consideration of peace, he withdrew to wait for a better opportunity. Thus the Germans, beaten back from Paris, vainly pounded the allied lines on the Yser; the Russians, after forcing their path through Galicia, defended Warsaw with desperation; while Wilson kept himself and his country strictly aloof from the conflict.
But no mere desires or declarations could prevent the war from touching America, and each day made more apparent the difficulties and the dangers of neutrality. The Atlantic no longer separated the two worlds. In September and October the British Government, taking advantage of the naval supremacy assured by their fleet, issued Orders in Council designed to provide for close control of neutral commerce and to prevent the importation of contraband into Germany. British supervision of war-time trade has always been strict and its interpretation of the meaning of contraband broad; the present instance was no exception. American ships and cargoes were seized and confiscated to an extent which, while it doubtless seemed justified to the British, who were fighting for their lives, evoked a chorus of bitter complaints from American producers and exporters. Commerce with neutral countries of Europe threatened to become completely interrupted. On the 21st of October and again on the 26th of December, the State Department sent notes of protest to the British Government. The tone of the discussion was notably sharpened by the seizure of the Wilhelmina, supposedly an American ship, though, as later developed, she had been chartered by a German agent in New York, Dr. Heinrich F. Albert, in order to bring the Anglo-American dispute to a head.
How far the interference with our trade by the British might have embittered relations, if other issues had not seemed more pressing, no one can say. Precisely at the moment when business men were beginning to call upon Wilson for a sturdier defense of American commercial rights, a controversy with Germany eclipsed, at least from the eye of the general public, all other foreign questions. From the moment when the defeat on the Marne showed the Germans that victory was not likely to come quickly to their arms, the Berlin Government realized the importance of preventing the export of American munitions. Since the allies held control of the seas an embargo on such export would be entirely to German advantage, and the head of German propaganda in this country, a former Colonial Secretary, Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, attempted to mobilize German-American sentiment and to bring pressure upon Congressmen through their constituents in favor of such an embargo. It was easy to allege that the export of arms, since they went to the allied camp alone, was on its face, unneutral. Several Senators approved the embargo, among them the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, William J. Stone of Missouri. Against the proposed embargo Wilson set his face steadfastly. He perceived the fallacy of the German argument and insisted that to prevent the export of arms would be itself unneutral. The inability of the Central Powers to import arms from the United States resulted from their inferiority on the high seas; the Government would be departing from its position of impartiality if it failed to keep American markets open to every nation of the world, belligerent or neutral. The United States could not change the rules in the middle of the game for the advantage of one side. The perfect legality of Wilson's decision has been frankly recognized since the war by the German Ambassador.
But the execution of German military plans demanded that the allied shortage in munitions, upon which the Teutons counted for success in the spring campaigns, should not be replenished from American sources. Failing to budge Wilson on the proposal of an embargo, they launched themselves upon a more reckless course. On February 4, 1915, the German Admiralty issued a proclamation to the effect that after the 18th of February, German submarines would destroy every enemy merchant vessel found in the waters about the British Isles, which were declared a "war zone"; and that it might not be possible to provide for the safety of crew or passengers of destroyed vessels. Neutral ships were warned of the danger of destruction if they entered the zone. The excuse alleged for this decided departure from the custom of nations was the British blockade upon foodstuffs, which had been declared as a result of the control of food in Germany by the Government. Here was quite a different matter from British interference with American trade-rights; for if the German threat were carried into effect it signified not merely the destruction or loss of property, for which restitution might be made, but the possible drowning of American citizens, perhaps women and children, who would be entirely within their rights in traveling upon merchant vessels and to whom the Government owed protection.
Wilson's reply was prompt and definite. "If the commanders of German vessels of war should ... destroy on the high seas an American vessel or the lives of American citizens, it would be difficult for the Government of the United States to view the act in any other light than as an indefensible violation of neutral rights.... The Government of the United States would be constrained to hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for such acts of their naval authorities and to take any steps it might be necessary to take to safeguard American lives and property and to secure to American citizens the full enjoyment of their acknowledged rights on the high seas." It was the clearest of warnings. Would Germany heed it? And if she did not, would Wilson surrender his pacific ideals and take the nation into war?
Early in the winter of 1914-1915 President Wilson apparently foresaw something of the complications likely to arise from the measures and counter-measures taken by the belligerents to secure control of overseas commerce, and sent his personal adviser, Colonel House, across the Atlantic to study the possibilities of reaching a modus vivendi. There was no man so well qualified for the mission. Edward Mandell House was a Texan by birth, but a cosmopolitan by nature. His hobby was practical politics; his avocation the study of history and government. His catholicity of taste is indicated by the nature of his library, which includes numerous volumes not merely on the social sciences but also on philosophy and poetry. His intellectual background was thus no less favorable than his political for the post which he assumed as Wilson's personal adviser. Disqualified by physical delicacy from entering the political arena himself and consistently refusing office, he had for years controlled the political stage in his own State; in 1912, exercising strong influence in the national party organization, he had done much to crystallize sentiment in favor of Wilson as presidential candidate. Slight in stature, quiet in manner and voice, disliking personal publicity, with an almost uncanny instinct for divining the motives that actuate men, he possessed that which Wilson lacked—the capacity to "mix," to meet his fellow mortals, no matter what their estate, on a common ground.
Courteous and engaging, Colonel House was an unexcelled negotiator: he had a genius for compromise, as perfect a control of his emotions as of his facial expression, and a pacific magnetism that soothed into reasonableness the most heated interlocutor. His range of acquaintance in the United States was unparalleled. Abroad, previous to the war, he had discussed international relations with the Kaiser and the chief statesmen of France and England. His experience of American politics and knowledge of foreign affairs, whether derived from men or from books, were matched by an almost unerring penetration in the analysis of a political situation, domestic or European. As a liberal idealist and pacifist, he saw eye to eye with Wilson; his sense of political actualities, however, was infinitely more keen.
But even the skill of Colonel House was not sufficient to induce Germany to hold her hand, and, as spring advanced, it became increasingly clear that she was resolved to carry her threats of unrestricted submarine warfare into effect. The quality of Wilson's pacifism was about to be put to the test. In March a British steamer, the Falaba, was sunk and an American citizen drowned; some weeks later an American boat, the Cushing, was attacked by a German airplane; and on the 1st of May, another American steamer, the Gulflight, was sunk by a submarine with the loss of two American lives. When was Wilson going to translate into action his summary warning of "strict accountability?" Even as the question was asked, we heard that the Germans had sunk the Lusitania. On the 7th of May, 1915, at two in the afternoon, the pride of the British merchant marine was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German submarine. She sank in half an hour. More than eleven hundred of her passengers and crew were drowned, among them one hundred and twenty-four Americans, men, women, and children.
The cry that went up from America was one of anguish, but still more one of rage. This attack upon non-combatant travelers, citizens of a neutral state, had been callously premeditated and ruthlessly executed in cold blood. The German Government had given frigid warning, in a newspaper advertisement, of its intention to affront the custom of nations and the laws of humanity. A wave of the bitterest anti-German feeling swept down the Atlantic coast and out to the Mississippi; for the first time there became apparent a definite trend of opinion demanding the entrance of the United States into the war on the side of the Entente. On that day Wilson might have won a declaration of war, so strong was popular sentiment; and despite the comparative indifference of the Missouri valley and the Far West, he might have aroused enthusiasm if not unity.
But a declaration of war then would, in all probability, have been a mistake. Entrance into the war at that time would have been based upon neither judgment nor ideals, but merely upon emotion. The American people were in no way prepared to bring material aid to the cause of justice, nor did the nation yet appreciate the moral issues involved. It would have been a war of revenge for American lives lost. The President was by temperament disinclined to listen to the passionate demands for intervention, and, as historian, he must have had in mind the error committed by McKinley when he permitted the declaration of war on Spain, after the sinking of the Maine in 1898. Sober afterthought has generally agreed that Wilson was right. But he was himself led into a serious error that produced consequences which were not soon to be dissipated. Speaking three days after the event, when the world looked to him to express the soul of America, and dealing with the spirit of Americanism, he permitted an unfortunate phrase to enter his address and to cloud his purpose. "There is such a thing," he said, "as a man being too proud to fight." The phrase was by no means essential to the main points of his address; it was preceded by one of greater importance, namely that "the example of America must be a special example ... of peace because peace is the healing and elevating influence of the world and strife is not." It was followed by another of equal importance, that a nation may be so much in the right "that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right." These two phrases expressed what was in the President's mind clearly and definitely: the United States was consecrated to ideals which could not be carried into effect through force, unless every other method dictated by supreme patience had failed. But the world did not notice them. All that it remembered was that the United States was "too proud to fight." What did this mean to the average man except that the country was afraid to fight? The peoples of the Entente powers were contemptuous; Germans were reassured; Americans were humiliated.
Wilson the phrase-maker was betrayed by a phrase, and it was to pursue him like a Fury. The chorus of indignation and shame aroused by this phrase covered completely the determination and skill with which he entered upon the diplomatic struggle with Germany. His purpose was definite. He had gone on record in February that the United States Government would protect the rights of American citizens, and he was bound to secure from Germany a promise that merchant ships should not be torpedoed without warning or assuring the lives of crew and passengers. And yet by virtue of his pacific principles this promise could not be forcibly extracted until every other possible method had been attempted in vain. Unquestionably he was supported in his policy by many, perhaps most, thoughtful people, although wherever support was given him in the East it was generally grudging. Such a representative and judicial mind as that of ex-President Taft favored cool consideration and careful action. But the difficulties encountered by the President were tremendous. On the one hand he met the bitter denunciations of the group, constantly increasing in numbers, which demanded our immediate intervention on the side of the Entente. Led by Roosevelt, who no longer felt as in the previous September, that the United States had no immediate interest in the war, this group included influential men of business and many writers. They had lost patience with Wilson's patience. His policy was, in their opinion, that of a coward. On the other hand, Wilson was assailed by pro-Germans and die-hard pacifists; the former believed that the British blockade justified Germany's submarine warfare; the latter were afraid even of strong language in diplomatic notes, lest it lead to war. At the very outset of the diplomatic controversy with Germany, before the second Lusitania note was dispatched, the Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, resigned, in the belief that the President's tone was too peremptory. For Bryan was willing to arbitrate even Germany's right to drown American citizens on the high seas. The defection of this influential politician a year previous would have weakened Wilson seriously, but by now the President had won secure control of the party. He was, indeed, strengthened diplomatically by Bryan's resignation, as the latter, in a conversation with the Austrian Ambassador, had given the impression that American protests need not be taken over-seriously. His continuance in office might have encouraged German leaders to adopt a bolder tone.
From the very beginning of his attempts to obtain from Germany a disavowal for the sinking of the Lusitania and a promise not to sink without warning, the President took his stand upon high ground. Not merely did he insist upon the rights guaranteed to neutrals by the law of nations; he took the controversy out of the class of ordinary subjects of diplomatic discussion and contended "for nothing less high and sacred than the rights of humanity." To this he recurred in each of his notes. Germany avoided the issue. At first she insisted that the Lusitania was armed, carrying explosives of war, transporting troops from Canada, and thus virtually acting as a naval auxiliary. After the falsity of this assertion was shown, she adduced the restrictions placed by Great Britain on neutral trade as excuse for submarine operations, and contended that the circumstances of naval warfare in the twentieth century had so changed that the principles of international law no longer held good.
Each time Wilson returned to his point that the "rights of neutrals are based upon principle, not upon expediency, and the principles are immutable. Illegal and inhuman acts ... are manifestly indefensible when they deprive neutrals of their acknowledged rights, particularly when they violate the right to life itself. If a belligerent cannot retaliate against an enemy without injuring the lives of neutrals, as well as their property, humanity, as well as justice and a due regard for the dignity of neutral powers should dictate that the practice be discontinued." Wilson terminated his third note to Germany with a warning, which had the tone, if not the form, of an ultimatum: there must be a scrupulous observance of neutral rights in this critical matter, as repetition of "acts in contravention of those rights must be regarded by the Government of the United States, when they affect American citizens, as deliberately unfriendly."
The exchange of notes consumed much time and proved a severe test for American patience. The first Lusitania note was sent on the 13th of May and it was not until the 1st of September that the German Government finally gave a pledge that was acceptable to Wilson. In the meantime there had been continued sinkings, or attempts to sink, in clear violation of the principles for which the President was contending. The Nebraskan, the Armenian, the Orduna, were subjected to submarine attacks. On the 19th of August the Arabic was sunk and two Americans lost. The ridicule heaped upon the President by the British and certain sections of the American press, for his writing of diplomatic notes, was only equaled by the sense of humiliation experienced by pro-Entente elements in this country. Punch issued a cartoon in which Uncle Sam pointed to Wilson as having outstripped the record made by Job for patience. Nevertheless Wilson obtained the main point for which he was striving. On September 1, 1915, the German Government gave the definite pledge that "Liners will not be sunk by our submarines without warning and without safety of the lives of non-combatants, provided that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance." Wilson had sought to safeguard a principle by compelling from Germany a written acknowledgment of its validity. So much he had won and without the exercise of force. Even those whose nerves were most overwrought by the long-drawn-out negotiations, admitted that it was a diplomatic victory.
The victory was not clean-cut, for Germany had not yet disavowed the sinking of the Lusitania, nor did the category "liners" seem to include all merchant vessels. How real was even the partial victory remained to be seen. Within three days of the German pledge the Hesperian was sunk and an American citizen drowned. On the 7th of November the Ancona was torpedoed in the Mediterranean by an Austrian submarine with the loss of more American lives. It is true that after each case a disavowal was made and a renewal of promises vouchsafed. But it seemed obvious that Germany was merely playing for time and also that she counted upon pro-German and pacifist agitation in this country. For a brief period it appeared as if her hopes were not to be entirely disappointed. British merchant vessels, following long-established custom, had for some months been armed for purposes of defense. The German Government on February 10, 1916, announced that henceforward such armed merchantmen would be regarded as auxiliary cruisers and would be sunk without warning. It was unfortunate that Robert Lansing, who had succeeded Bryan as Secretary of State, had proposed on January 18, 1916, to the diplomatic representatives of the Allied forces that they cease the arming of merchantmen as a means of securing from Germany a pledge which would cover all merchantmen as well as passenger liners; this proposal gave to Germany a new opportunity for raising the issue of the submarine. But either Lansing's proposal had been made without Mr. Wilson's sanction or the President changed his mind, since on the 10th of February Wilson declared that he intended to recognize the right of merchantmen to arm for purposes of defense. Once more he insisted that the rules of war could not be changed during war for the advantage of one side.
His declaration led at once to something like a revolt of Congress. Already some of those who especially feared intervention had been suffering from an attack of panic as a result of Wilson's recent decision to support the preparedness movement. They were further terrified by the possibility that some American citizen traveling on an armed merchantman might lose his life and that the demand for entrance into the war might thus become irresistible. Bryanites, pro-German propagandists, and Irish combined against the President, and were reinforced by all the discontented elements who hoped to break Wilson's control of the Democratic party. The combination seemed like a new cave of Adullam. Resolutions were introduced in the Senate by Thomas P. Gore and in the House by Jeff McLemore, based upon suggestions made by Bryan nine months before, that American citizens should be warned not to travel on armed merchant vessels. Senator Stone, of the Foreign Relations Committee, supported these resolutions and it appeared probable that Germany would find her strongest support in the American Congress.
Wilson struck sharply. Not merely his leadership of the party and the country was at stake, but also that moral leadership of neutral nations and the world toward which the struggle with Germany was to take him. Refusing to receive Senator Stone, he sent him a letter in which the cardinal points of his position were underlined. "Once accept a single abatement of right," he insisted, "and many other humiliations would certainly follow, and the whole fine fabric of international law might crumble under our hands piece by piece. What we are now contending for in this matter is the very essence of the things that have made America a sovereign nation. She cannot yield them without conceding her own impotency as a Nation and making virtual surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world." This definite enunciation was in effect an appeal to the American people, which came as a relief to those who had suffered from presidential patience under German outrages. The storm of public feeling aroused against the rebellious Congressmen was such that Wilson's victory became assured. Demanding concrete justification of his stand, he insisted that the resolutions be put to the vote. The issue was somewhat confused in the Senate so that the vote was not decisive; but in the House the McLemore resolution was defeated by a vote of 276 to 142.
And yet the submarine issue was not finally closed. Less than a month after the rights of American citizens were thus maintained, the British passenger steamer Sussex, crossing the English Channel, was torpedoed without warning. It was the clearest violation of the pledge given by the German Government the previous September. Once again Wilson acted without precipitancy. He waited until the Germans should present explanations and thereafter took more than a week in which to formulate his decision. Finally, on April 19, 1916, he called the two houses of Congress in joint session to lay before them his note to Germany. Unlike his Lusitania notes, this was a definite ultimatum, clearly warranted by the undeniable fact that Germany had broken a solemn pledge. After recounting the long list of events which had so sorely tried American patience, Wilson concluded that "unless the Imperial German Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels this Government can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the Government of the German Empire altogether." The force of the ultimatum was emphasized by the general tone of the note, in which, as in the Lusitania notes, the President spoke not so much for the legal rights of the United States, as in behalf of the moral rights of all humanity. He stressed the "principles of humanity as embodied in the law of nations," and excoriated the "inhumanity of submarine warfare"; he terminated by stating that the United States would contemplate a diplomatic break with reluctance, but would feel constrained to take the step "in behalf of humanity and the rights of neutral nations." This note of emphasis upon America's duty to mankind rather than to herself formed the main theme of a speech delivered two days previous: "America will have forgotten her traditions whenever upon any occasion she fights merely for herself under such circumstances as will show that she has forgotten to fight for all mankind. And the only excuse that America can ever have for the assertion of her physical force is that she asserts it in behalf of the interests of humanity."
Germany yielded before Wilson's ultimatum, though with bad grace, and promised that no more merchant ships would be sunk "without warning and without saving human lives." But she also tried to make her promise conditional upon the cessation by Great Britain of methods of warfare which Germany called illegal, implying that her pledge might be withdrawn at her pleasure: "the German Government ... must reserve itself complete liberty of action." This condition Wilson, in taking note of Germany's pledge, definitely waved aside: "the Government of the United States notifies the Imperial Government that it cannot for a moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by German naval authorities for the rights of American citizens upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest degree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other government affecting the rights of neutrals and non-combatants. Responsibility in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative." By its silence the German Government seemed to acquiesce and the crisis was over. The country had been close to war, but intervention might yet be avoided if Germany kept her word. That, however, was a condition upon which people were learning not to rely.
It is obvious that by the early summer of 1916 President Wilson's attitude on foreign affairs had undergone a notable transformation from that parochial spirit of 1914 which had led him to declare that the war was no concern of America; he had given over completely the tradition that if we keep our own hands clean we fulfill our duty. He had begun to elaborate an idealistic policy of service to the world, not unreminiscent of the altruistic schemes of Clay and Webster for assisting oppressed republicans in Europe during the first third of the nineteenth century. Wilson, like those statesmen, had always felt that the position of the United States in the world was of a special sort, quite different from that of the European states, and circumstances were forcing him to take the stand that the nation must assume the lead in the world in order to ensure the operation of the principles that Americans believe in. "We are in some sort and by the force of circumstances the responsible spokesman of the rights of humanity." He still opposed active intervention in the war; the mission of the United States was a higher one than could adequately be fulfilled through war; the kind of service we could best give was not fighting. Yet he was brought to admit, even before the Sussex crisis (February 26, 1916), that in the last instance war might be necessary if the American people were to assume the role of champion of liberty in the world at large, as they had championed it in the Americas; for the rights of humanity must be made secure against menace: "America ought to keep out of this war ... at the expense of everything except this single thing upon which her character and history are founded, her sense of humanity and justice.... Valor withholds itself from all small implications and entanglements and waits for the great opportunity, when the sword will flash as if it carried the light of heaven upon its blade." Thus the possibility of ultimate force was implied. Eighteen months previous, peace had been for Wilson an end in itself. Now it was subordinated to the greater end implied in maintaining the principle of justice in the world.
During this period popular sentiment also underwent a notable development. Americans reacted sharply to German threats and outrages, and were thrown off their comfortable balance by the events which touched American honor and safety so closely. Like Wilson, they were shaken out of that sense of isolation which enveloped them in 1914, and they were thus prepared for the reception of broader ideals. The process of education was slow and difficult. It was hampered by the confusion of foreign issues. Propagandists took advantage of the controversy with Great Britain in order to obscure the principles upon which the discussions with Germany were based. The increasing stringency of British control of commerce and the blacklisting of various American firms by the British authorities resulted in numerous American protests and to some warmth of feeling. Wilson was no particular friend of the British, but he rightly insisted upon the distinction between the dispute with Germany, which involved the common right of humanity to life, and that with Great Britain, which involved merely rights of property. Nevertheless that distinction was blurred in the minds of many Americans, and their perception of the new ideals of foreign policy was necessarily confused.
The education of the American people to the significance of the issue was also hampered by the material change that came over the country during the latter part of 1915 and the spring of 1916. The influx of gold and the ease with which fortunes were accumulated could not but have widespread effects. The European war came at a moment when the United States was passing through a period of comparatively hard times. Stringency was naturally increased by the liquidation of foreign investments in 1914 and the closing of European markets to American commerce. Business was dull. But this condition was rapidly altered through the placing of large contracts by the Entente Governments and the most extensive buying by foreign purchasers. New markets were found among the neutral states, which were unable to buy in Europe. Naturally there developed a rapid extension of industrial activities. New manufacturing concerns grew up, large and small, as a result of these adventitious conditions, which paid enormous returns. Activities upon the stock market were unparalleled. New and sudden fortunes were made; millionaires became common. The whole world was debtor to America and a golden stream flowed across the Atlantic. Prices rose rapidly and wages followed.
Inevitably materialism conquered, at least for the moment. The demand for luxuries was only equaled by the craze for entertainment. Artisans and shopgirls invaded the jewelry stores of Fifth Avenue. Metropolitan life was a succession of luncheons and teas, where fertile brains were busied with the invention of new dancing steps rather than the issues of the European war. Cabarets were crowded and seats for midnight beauty shows must be secured well in advance or by means of gargantuan tips to plutocratic head waiters. Much of the materialism was simply external. In every town American women by the thousand gave lavishly of their time and strength to knit and roll bandages for the fighters and wounded overseas. America was collecting millions for the relief of Belgium, Serbia, and for the Red Cross. The American Ambulance in France was served by men imbued with the spirit of sacrifice. Thousands of American youths enlisted in the Canadian forces. The general atmosphere of the country, however, was heavy with amusement and money-making. Not yet did America fully realize that the war was a struggle of ideals which must concern every one closely. In such an atmosphere the idealistic policy of Wilson was not easily understood.
The President himself cannot escape a large share of the blame for America's blindness to the issue. During the first twelve months of the war, when the country looked to him for leadership, he had, purposely or otherwise, fostered the forces of pacifism and encouraged the advocates of national isolation. He had underlined the separation of the United States from everything that went on in Europe and insisted that in the issues of the war the American people had no interest. In deference to the spirit of pacifism that engrossed the Middle West, he had opposed the movement for military preparedness. When, late in 1915, Wilson changed his attitude and attempted to arouse the country to a sense of American interest in world affairs and to the need of preparing to accept responsibility, he encountered the opposition of forces which he himself had helped to vitalize.
Popular education, especially upon the Atlantic coast, was further hampered by the personal irritation which the President aroused. Disliked when inaugurated, he had attracted bitter enmity among the business men who dominate opinion in New England and the Eastern States. They accused him of truckling to labor. They were wearied by his idealism, which seemed to them all words and no deeds. They regarded his handling of foreign affairs, whether in the Mexican or submarine crises, as weak and vacillating. He was, in Rooseveltian nomenclature, a "pussyfooter." Hence grew up the tradition, which was destined to endure among many elements of opinion, that everything advocated by Wilson must, simply by reason of its authorship, be essentially wrong. The men of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were beginning to give over their attitude of isolation and admit with Roosevelt that the United States ought to stand with the Entente. The Wilsonian doctrine of service to the world, however, was not to their taste, partly because they did not like Wilson.
It was to the rural districts of the upper Mississippi and to the South that the President looked most eagerly for support of his new policy. These were the regions where indifference to and ignorance of foreign affairs had been most conspicuous, but they were also the regions where the President's personal influence was strongest; finally they were the districts where extreme pacifism was most deeply embedded. If Wilson's championship of the rights of liberty throughout the world could be accomplished by pacific methods, they would follow him; but if it meant war, no one could guarantee what their attitude might be. Bryan was popular in those parts. As yet Wilson, while he had formulated his policy in broad terms, had not indicated the methods or mechanism by which his principles were to be put into operation. He would without question encounter strong opposition among the German-Americans; he would find the attitude of the Irish foes of the Entente hostile; he would find the Pacific coast more interested in Japanese immigration than in the ideals of the European war. Fortunately events were to unify the heterogeneous elements of the country, at least for the moment, in a way that simplified greatly the President's problem. Not the least of the unifying forces was to be found in German psychology, which led the Imperial Government to believe that the United States could be rendered helpless through the intrigues of German spies.
PLOTS AND PREPAREDNESS
The Government of the German Empire was inspired by a spirit that was at once modern and medieval, and this contradictory spirit manifested itself in the ways and means employed to win the sympathy of the United States and to prevent it, as a neutral power, from assisting the Entente. Germany worked on the one hand by means of open propaganda, which is the method of modern commercial advertisement translated into the political field, and on the other by secret intrigue reminiscent of the days of Louis XI. Her propaganda took the form of organized campaigns to influence opinion through speeches, pamphlets, and books, which were designed to convince the country of the justice of Germany's cause and the dangers of becoming the catspaw of the Entente. Her plans of intrigue were directed towards the use of German-Americans or German spies to assist in the return of German officers from this country, to hinder the transport of Canadian troops, to destroy communications, and to hamper the output of munitions for the Entente by strikes, incendiary fires, and explosions.
During the first weeks of the war a German press bureau was established in New York for the distribution of pro-German literature and the support of the German-American press. Its activities were chiefly directed by Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, who defended Germany from the charge of responsibility for the war and expatiated upon her efficiency and the beneficence of her culture in the same breath that he attacked the commercial greed of Great Britain, the cruel autocracy of Russia, and the imperialistic designs of Japan in the Pacific. Its pamphlets went so far as to excoriate allied methods of warfare and to level accusations of inhumanity against the Belgians. It distributed broadcast throughout the country an appeal signed by ninety-three German professors and intellectuals, and countersigned by a few notable Americans, which besought the American people not to be deceived by the "lies and calumnies" of the enemies of Germany.
This propaganda left all cold except those who already sympathized with Germany. Indeed it reacted unfavorably against the German cause, as soon as the well-authenticated reports came of German atrocities in Belgium, of the burning of the Louvain library, and of the shelling of Rheims cathedral. The efforts of German agents then shifted, concentrating in an attack upon the United States Government for its alleged unneutral attitude in permitting the export of munitions to the Entente. In some sections of the country they were able to arouse an opinion favorable to the establishment of an embargo. In the Senate, on December 10, 1914, a bill was offered by John D. Works of California providing for the prohibition of the sale of war supplies to any belligerent nation and a similar bill was fathered in the House by Charles L. Bartlett of Georgia. These efforts were warmly supported by various associations, some of which were admittedly German-American societies, although the majority attempted to conceal their partisan feeling under such titles as American Independence Union and American Neutrality League. The latter effectively displayed its interest in America and in neutrality by tumultuous singing of Deutschland ueber Alles and Die Wacht am Rhein. Of sincerely pacifist organizations there were not a few, among which should not be forgotten the fantastic effort of Henry Ford in December, 1915, to end the war by sending a "Peace Ship" to Europe, designed to arouse such public opinion abroad in favor of peace that "the boys would be out of the trenches by Christmas." The ship sailed, but the expedition, which was characterized by equal amounts of honesty and foolishness, broke up shortly in dissension. For the most part pacifism and pro-Germanism went hand in hand—a tragic alliance of good and evil which was to hamper later efforts to evolve an international organization for the preservation of peace.
The attempts of German propagandists to influence the policy of the Government met, as we have seen, the stubborn resolve of the President not to favor one camp of the belligerents by a departure from international custom and law during the progress of the war. Their efforts, however, were not entirely relaxed. Appeals were made to workmen to stop the war by refusing to manufacture munitions; vigorous campaigns were conducted to discredit the Administration by creating the belief that it was discriminating in favor of the British. But more and more Germany took to secret intrigue, the strings of which were pulled by the military and naval attaches, von Papen and Boy-Ed. The German Ambassador, von Bernstorff, also took a lively interest in the plans to control public opinion and later to hamper munitions production. With his approval, German manufacturing companies were organized at Bridgeport and elsewhere to buy up the machinery and supplies essential to the production of powder, shrapnel, and surplus benzol; arrangements were made with the Bosch Magneto Company to enter into contracts with the Entente for fuses and at the last moment to refuse to complete the contract. Von Bernstorff was careful to avoid active participation in plots for the destruction of property; but his interest and complicity, together with that of Dr. Heinrich F. Albert, Financial Adviser of the German Embassy, are evidenced by the checks drawn on their joint account and paid to convicted criminals.
One of the first of the plots was the attempted blowing up of the international bridge at Vanceboro, Maine, on December 31, 1914. The materials for this explosion were collected and the fuse set by a German reservist lieutenant, Werner Horn, who admitted that he acted under the orders of von Papen. Another plan of the German agents was the destruction of the Welland Canal, which was entrusted to a brilliant and erratic adventurer, von der Goltz, who later confessed that he was under the supervision of von Papen and had secured his materials from Captain Hans Tauscher, the agent in New York of the Hamburg-American Line. This company was involved in securing false manifests for vessels that carried coal and supplies to German cruisers, thus defrauding the United States, and in obtaining false passports for German reservists and agents; it acted, in fact, as an American branch of the German Admiralty. More serious yet was an attempt of the naval attache, Boy-Ed, to involve the United States and Mexico in a dispute by a plot to bring back Huerta. This unhappy Mexican leader was arrested on the Mexican border in June, 1915, and shortly afterwards died.
For some months the existence of such activities on the part of German agents had been suspected by the public. A series of disclosures followed. In July, 1915, Dr. Albert, while riding on a New York elevated train, was so careless as to set his portfolio on the seat for a few moments; it was speedily picked up by a fellow passenger who made a hasty exit. Soon afterwards the chief contents of the portfolio were published. They indicated the complicity of the German Embassy in different attempts to control the American press and to influence public opinion, and proved the energy of less notable agents in illegal undertakings. Towards the end of August, the Austrian Ambassador, Dr. Constantin Dumba, made use of an American correspondent, James F. J. Archibald by name, to carry dispatches to the Central Empires. He was arrested by the British authorities at Falmouth, and his effects proved Dumba's interest in plans to organize strikes in American munitions plants. "It is my impression," wrote the Austrian Ambassador, "that we can disorganize and hold up for months, if not entirely prevent, the manufacture of munitions in Bethlehem and the Middle West, which in the opinion of the German military attache, is of great importance and amply outweighs the expenditure of money involved." Archibald also carried a letter from von Papen to his wife in which he wrote: "I always say to these idiotic Yankees that they had better hold their tongues." Its publication did not serve to allay the warmth of American feeling.
It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that the public learned in September that President Wilson had requested the recall of Ambassador Dumba in the following words: "By reason of the admitted purpose and intent of Ambassador Dumba to conspire to cripple legitimate industries of the people of the United States and to interrupt their legitimate trade, and by reason of the flagrant diplomatic impropriety in employing an American citizen protected by an American passport, as a secret bearer of official despatches through the lines of the enemy of Austria-Hungary.... Mr. Dumba is no longer acceptable to the Government of the United States." The two German attaches were given a longer shrift, but on the 30th of November von Bernstorff was told that they were no longer acceptable; von Papen sailed on the 22d of December and was followed a week later by Boy-Ed.